Today marks a true television news milestone: the sixtieth anniversary of the first Meet the Press television broadcast, on November 6, 1947. MTP, created by Martha Rountree and Lawrence Spivak, is the longest-running television program in American broadcasting history.
“When Meet the Press started sixty years ago,” says moderator Tim Russert, “you had the only public affairs show on television. There was nothing else.”
Boy, how things have changed. But Meet the Press endures. And thrives. It has been the number one Sunday-morning news program for ten consecutive seasons.
“It’s very much appointment viewing,” explains Executive Producer Betsy Fischer . “People feel like if they miss the show, they’re not really caught up, for the week going forward.”
“I view it as a national treasure,” concurs Russert, who succeeded Garrick Utley in 1991, becoming the show’s ninth host. “I’m a temporary custodian…It’s extraordinary, it’s a gift. One hour, on a Sunday morning, when people can have a serious, and, hopefully, worthwhile discussion about politics and what’s going on in our country.”
Meet the Press has hosted every President since John F. Kennedy. And numerous individuals who would like to be President. These days, they must face Russert, who is not known for lobbing softballs. “The smart ones understand that there’s an obligation, for someone who wants to be President or to be a serious public official, to answer questions,” he explains. “If you come on, and do well, and you’re able to convince your supporters and convince some undecideds that you have a sense of the country that is worth listening to…It can set off a buzz in media and political circles…It’s a risk that people often think is worth taking.”
“It’s not going to be ‘gotcha’,” Russert continues. “(Guests are) going to be treated with respect — but they’re also going to be challenged. We’re trying to find out what they believe and why they believe it. I think that’s a pretty good standard to adhere to.”
A standard for the long-running “A-team”, Russert and Fischer. Fischer has been with the program ever since she started as an intern sixteen years ago. “It has been, certainly, a front row to history,” she reflects.
Russert’s contract runs through 2012. “It’s my passion,” he says about the program. “It’s what I love to do. There’s nothing I’d rather do, in television, or anywhere else…I have to figure out, in 2012, what I want to do.”
After all, there’s his beloved Buffalo Bills. “If the Bills win the Super Bowl, who knows?”